Although the legal drinking age in BC is 19, some teens may try alcohol before they reach legal age. Finding out your teenager has been drinking or trying other drugs can be very unsettling. The best thing you can do as a parent is to stay calm, explore the reasons why, and consider the risks of your teen drinking.
Think Before Reacting
If you discover your teen has been using alcohol or other drugs, the most helpful response is having a calm and open conversation. It is important not to let concerns and fears destroy your relationship with them.
- Stay calm. Yelling and making threats will not help the situation. If anything, it may give a young person a reason to hide things.
- Wait for the right time. A thoughtful conversation is likely not possible while a teen is intoxicated or high. So address immediate safety needs and wait until later to have a talk.
- Listen more than talk. Start by owning your own concerns and saying, “I’m worried because…” or “I’m afraid because…” then give them an opportunity to express their own feelings, making sure they know they are being listened to.
Things to Talk About
Explore their behaviour, the reasons for it, ways to manage risk, and safer alternatives when talking with teenagers about their use of alcohol or other drugs.
1. The Reasons
The reasons people use alcohol or other drugs influence the pattern of use and risk of harmful consequences. Trying it out of curiosity may only lead to occasional or experimental use. If the motivation is ongoing (e.g., relieving a chronic sleep or mental health problem), then more long-lasting and intense substance use may follow. Motives for intense short-term use (e.g., to fit in, have fun or alleviate temporary stress) may result in risky behaviour with high potential for serious harm.
Explore the reasons together with your teen to assess the situation and help them better understand their own behaviour.
2. Managing Risks
All alcohol or other drug use carries some risk of harm. But sometimes the risk is very low and the benefits may outweigh the risks (e.g., a little may help a lot in an awkward social situation). Other times, the risk may be moderate, high or clearly harmful (e.g., drinking before driving or doing other things that put people’s lives on the line). The level of risk is influenced by how much, how often, the reasons why, and the context in which you drink as well as personal factors like your age, physical, and mental health.
Substance use at an early age can affect the physical and mental development of young people, which is why it’s best to delay the start of alcohol or other drug use as long as possible. The safest option is to delay use until at least late teens. But for young people who do choose to drink, at least know the basics of managing risk:
3. Safer Alternatives
Drinking isn’t the only way to get that buzzed feeling, or a sensation of relaxation. Depending on the reasons for substance use, you can suggest alternatives.
If teens drink because they like the buzz, suggest activities that will naturally boost adrenaline levels, like:
- rock climbing
- mountain biking
If they are using substances to calm themselves or relieve feelings of anxiety, help them explore calming or meditative activities like: